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“Transforming our World by 2030” Some thoughts on the post 2015 zero draft

On June 2, the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda released their zero draft of the outcome document for the September summit on the Sustainable Development Goals. The release of the document is timed for the start of the next round of intergovernmental negotiations, which are slated to start on June 22.

While the individual components of the outcome document have been circulated and debated for months, this is an impressive statement of what the final product will look like. Readers may also find Elizabeth Stuart’s early review of the zero draft of interest.

Rewriting the Rules
The authors of this 46 page document cannot be faulted for a lack of breadth. The post 2015 agenda is a call to think about development differently. It challenges what it means to be a state through Goal 16’s call for creating accountable and effective institutions. It challenges the Washington Consensus and the global discourse on austerity with a call for adequate policy space and social protection. Finally, it offers a vision of how global policy problems will be solved moving forward, not only through the process that created this document, but also in its insistence on multi-stakeholder governance. Moving forward, the future process of global problem solving is more inclusive.

Still Lots Left To Do
The use of the term zero draft is used to denote a work that is still in progress. Four pieces of this document do need further clarification. First, the co-facilitators have reintroduced revised targets that were previously scuttled in an earlier round of negotiations. Hopefully with a sense of the whole package, the fears that these revisions open the door to a full overhaul of the goals can be ameliorated. Second, there is an entire parallel process underway to turn these targets into measurable indicators that won’t be finalized until Spring 2016. Third, the weakest portion of the draft deals with follow up and review, and the roles of regional peer review and the High Level Political Forum need to be clarified. We also need to make sure that there are adequate resources to support the monitoring and review process. Finally, the whole SDG process turns on having data. It is not clear that there will be ample financial support for developing countries to upgrade their national statistical offices to get the data gathering job done.

An Unanswered Question: How do we connect the domestic and the international?
Charles Kenny noted that the SDGs lack a theory of change. While this is an ungainly term, it is a shorthand for saying that we need to better think about how creating global goals will translate into better policy outcomes within countries. Rather than being a shortcoming, this is already an issue that the UN knows about very well. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created with aspirational goals and no mechanism for monitoring. Despite these liabilities, it would be difficult to argue that the world would not be a different place had UDHR not been written. The challenge in turning even opaque goals into policy outcomes is two-fold: the public needs to be better informed about the goals in the first place, so that it can take action, and many of the issues that are the focus of the goals do not have strong domestic constituencies. Building stronger domestic coalitions to lobby for things like vocational skills, mental health, and road safety will take time.

An Unanswered Question: How will this play in the US?
The post 2015 agenda advances a very broad vision, and US politics seems to be moving radically away from it. Calls for universal health coverage, ratifying Law of the Sea, and even the very idea of government policies that increase productivity are certain to offend both free market fundamentalists and sovereigntists. We need only look at the local reaction to Agenda 21 to understand that even aspirational UN documents can rouse focused opposition. It will be vitally important for supporters of the post 2015 agenda to respond quickly to unfounded objections and create clear talking points to persuade skeptics.

A Plea for Critics
There will be reviews of the zero draft that are less positive than this one. The Economist has certainly been a critic of the SDG process, and a Fox News commentator termed the enterprise as a “multi-trillion-dollar U.N. bid to reshape the planet along largely socialist or progressive lines.” While such criticism is inevitable, our charge as educated citizens is to make the debate about the post 2015 agenda a constructive one. So, to the critics of this process, we need to ask: Where is your agenda? What would you do differently?

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